The NBA's new TV deal has gone through. To call it bananas is an understatement. This is following on the Clippers selling for two billion dollars. Heck, even the lowly Milwaukee Bucks, a poor team in a bad market, sold for over half a billion. To astute NBA players, the idea that NBA owners are struggling seems laughable. Luckily, a few are paying attention; both LeBron James and Deron Williams have recently commented about the upcoming CBA and the likely NBA work stoppage. We have a simple suggestion for the players.
Strike before the 2017 NBA Playoffs!
The current CBA is set to expire after the 2016-2017 NBA season. The players or owners have to give notice by December 16th, 2016 if they intend to opt out. The best course of action for the players is to opt out in December and then strike right before the start of the 2017 playoffs. There are several good reasons for this:
Half of the NBA is in the Playoffs
Let's start with a simple reason. Striking before the NBA playoffs impacts the finances of over half the league's teams (16 of the NBA's 30 teams make the playoffs). It's key to have a large amount of NBA teams willing to listen when striking.
There's a Short Time Limit on the Playoffs
The last work stoppages in the NBA have been lockouts. These have happened at the start of the NBA season. This gave the owners plenty of time to wear out the clock. And of course, after the contract was resolved, they just crammed tons of games into the remaining time. Remember the back-to-back-to-backs in 2011?
The advantage of striking before the playoffs is that the owners will have to resolve the contract quickly or risk losing an entire playoffs. They have the incentive to do so because....
The Playoffs are Free Money for NBA Teams
The way that contracts are structured in the NBA, players are really only paid for their regular season play. They get a little extra for the playoffs, but it's a trivial amount. The prize pool for all sixteen teams that make the playoffs is around $14 million. In the documents leaked about the Nets financials years ago, it looked like every playoff home game for the Nets was worth almost a million dollars! So clearly, the owners have much more to lose than the players.
The Playoffs are about Pride
Let's also be clear: most NBA owners are not in it strictly for the business. There is a thrill to winning an NBA title. It's hard to hurt the owners of the NBA in regards to money; they're all billionaires who can stand to wait and "lose" millions, while the players, many of whom aren't millionaires, would lose their livelihood. To have leverage on the owners requires going after something that will hurt. To all of the teams that stand a chance of a title, the notion of losing out will sting.
History says the Players Lose the Lockout
The 1999 and 2011 NBA lockouts ended up entirely in the owners' favor. The owners can afford to wait for the players to cave. Thanks to the maximum salary cap on individual players, more players stand to lose than gain by waiting. While Deron and LeBron are talking a big game, history says they'll lose this series in four. It's key that the players avoid ending up back in this spot.
The NBA is in the best financial shape it has ever been, and the players stand ready to benefit from this. But doing so will require a smarter plan of action than they've used in previous CBA negotiations. If they want to hit the owners where it hurts, it's key that they strike before the 2017 playoffs. If not, it's likely the owners will have even more reason to be happy about the NBA's recent windfall.